Human Settlements

© McKay Savage
Monsoon in Chennai, India by McKay Savage

In 2008 the world population was estimated to be equally split between urban and rural areas, marking the transition from a rural-dominated to an urban-dominated world. By 2030 the number of urban dwellers is expected to be about 1.8 billion more than in 2005 and to constitute about 60% of the world’s population. Almost all (95%) of this increase in urban populations is expected to occur in developing countries, especially in Africa and Asia, where the urban population is projected to double between 2000 and 2030.

This creates unprecedented challenges, among which provision for water and sanitation have been the most pressing.

Most population growth will occur in developing countries and mainly in regions that are already in water stress, characterized by limited access to safe drinking water or adequate sanitation facilities. Those who suffer the most are the poor, often living in slum areas that are left out of water development schemes due to failures in governance at many levels. 

In addition to its sociological and health implications, urbanization has unique environmental impacts: it transforms natural expanses of land into impervious surfaces, increases the flow velocity of water, carries polluting materials into receiving water systems, degrades water quality, and causes local pollution problems.

To meet the challenges of rapid urban population growth, decision-makers can focus on positive factors that affect fertility decline – social development, investments in health and education, empowerment of women and better access to reproductive health services – in contrast to anti-immigration approaches. 


Facts and figures extracted from WWDR3, Water in a Changing World (2009). Click on the links to know more!

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